These threats are occurring on top of our contingent overseas operations, such as Afghanistan, maritime security in the Gulf and reacting to natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. We know from bitter historical experience the difficulty of predicting future conflict, its nature or its location. We cannot base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability able to adapt to any changing threats.
The default position for the UK is and will be to operate as a partner within one alliance or another. However, the UK has unique national interests and we cannot always-nor should we always expect that we can-depend on our partners when Britain's direct national interests are threatened. That is why I said that although we agreed with much of the process and the output of the Green Paper, we cannot accept its assumption that Britain will always operate as part of an alliance. Most of the time, we will engage in operations as part of a coalition, whether through NATO, the European Union or coalitions of the willing, but we have unique national interests and must maintain the unique capability to act on our own if required. That is why that has to be an essential part of the strategic defence review.
Considering the instability around the world, any defence and security review-increasingly, they are synonymous-must be carried out in a logical sequence. It must begin with our foreign policy priorities, outlining what we believe to be our national interests. We must then consider what we believe to be the threat environment in which those interests will exist so that we can try to determine the strategy we need to respond to them. Only then can we determine the military capabilities we will require in that threat environment and only then can we come to the specific equipment programmes that will make those capabilities a reality. Finally, we will have to confront the harsh facts of the economic climate in which we will have to operate given the catastrophic economic management of the current Government.
Of course, we could try to carry out the process the other way around, and it has been done many times in the UK. In other words, we could begin with the budget and see what we can buy for it. However, that would end up, as it has in the past, with unintended consequences for our foreign policy and our wider capabilities. We would have missed the opportunity to return some real empiricism and stability to policy making.
Mr. Cash: I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend deal with the subject matter of this debate in the context of a broader global landscape. Does he agree that it is important that we do not lock ourselves, through treaties or arrangements of the St. Malo-type, into grand visions that do not work? The most that we should be prepared to do, given his proper insistence on our national interests, is to enter into discussions, but we should certainly not lock ourselves into arrangements with the French, the Germans or anybody else.
The most important element is that the defence and security of the United Kingdom remain the sole preserve of the UK Government. We already have a defence alliance-it is called NATO. There might be a role for the European Union where NATO cannot
or will not act, but it will always remain a secondary role. The cornerstone of our defence must be and will remain NATO, not least because it brings in the might of the American defence umbrella. The idea that we would leave behind the United States' defence umbrella, knowing that some of the minor players in Europe, not least those who are neutral, would be there for us in our hour of need, seems to me a ludicrous way of taking forward defence in the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and I have set out on a number of occasions what the foreign policy objectives of a forthcoming defence review under a Conservative Government would be. First, and obviously, we must be able to defend the United Kingdom against threats to our territorial integrity and our wider international interests. Those interests are both broad and deep in a globalised world, not least because we have an estimated 12 million British citizens living abroad. We are an international hub for financial activity and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G8, the G20, the Commonwealth and the European Union, and we are a leading member inside NATO. Our domestic interest must also be protected. When required, the armed forces must be able to augment and support civil emergency organisations during times of crisis. Defending the UK also means maintaining key strategic tasks such as a continuous, at-sea, submarine-based nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile system.
Secondly, we must be able to defend our 14 overseas territories, with the main focus rightly being on the Falklands. The legislation that was recently passed in Argentina, attempting to exert Argentine sovereignty over the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the British Antarctic Territory, is completely and utterly unacceptable. I hope that the Government are prepared for any contingency that could arise, although Argentina would be very foolish to test our national military capabilities, our state of readiness or our will to act. The Falkland Islands are and will remain British.
Thirdly, when required, we must be able to come to the aid of NATO allies in a significant way under our article 5 obligations. That, of course, requires the NATO strategic concept to be dealt with in a much clearer and more creative way than it has been in the past. That will be a major task for the Government after the general election.
Fourthly, we will need to be able to project power on a strategic level alongside the United States and France, which are without doubt our two most important defence and security partners. A future Conservative Government will continue to build on those relationships.
Fifthly, we will have to have the capacity to conduct extended stabilisation and nation-building exercises in order to provide stability and security, albeit as part of an international coalition. That will involve us working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development on conflict prevention.
Sixthly, we must be able to extend meaningful military co-operation with elevated bilateral relations. We need to continue to work closely with countries with shared, mutual interests and geostrategic importance, such as Norway and Turkey, or Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Where Britain has strategic interests that are better protected within elevated bilateral relationships,
we should pursue them vigorously. As I have said, however, there can be no doubt that it will be the United States that remains our No. 1 strategic partner. When it comes to the European continent, on a bilateral, sovereign basis, France will be our No. 1 European partner given its willingness to spend on defence and to deploy its forces more than many others on the continent, with notable exceptions such as the Danes, the Estonians and the Dutch in Afghanistan. We will invite some key partners to make submissions to our defence review, and we will welcome contributions from those who see Britain as a key strategic partner.
Finally, we must be able to enhance UK influence by leveraging our natural national advantages, such as intelligence and our excellent special forces. We must understand the diplomatic and economic value of maximising defence exports and the good will generated by joint training exercises or expanded training capacity for overseas officers. Defence diplomacy is effective and it represents good value for money.
Mr. Jenkin: I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the potential for productive bilateralism with France, alongside our relationship with the United States, but does he agree that we must continue to exercise some caution? We shall not be able to share intelligence with the French as we do with the Americans, and there will be no incentive to share technology with them as there is with the Americans, until France has a long track record as a reliable NATO ally, which will take many years to build-although I very much hope that it will build.
Dr. Fox: That caution is certainly something that would have to be taken very seriously, but if we are able-especially during the presidency of President Sarkozy-to see France oriented more towards NATO, taking a more Atlanticist view of defence and security, it will be in the interests of the United Kingdom, NATO and, I suggest, France.
Globalisation means that Britain's national interests no longer stop at Dover, Gibraltar or the Falklands. Consequently, globalisation has major implications for how we organise our national and international security structures and identify our threats. It goes without saying that the challenges that that represents to our armed forces are numerous and complex. The 21st-century strategic environment demands that western militaries are able simultaneously to conduct war fighting, peacekeeping, continuous deterrence-both conventional and nuclear-and humanitarian operations. It is a very different environment from that which our military faced in times gone by. Furthermore, that environment requires western Governments to supplement military operations through an array of soft-power tools, such as international aid, defence diplomacy, and the spread of information and ideas.
If the nature of the 21st century forces us-the west-to re-evaluate current war fighting, we should assume that our enemies are forced to do the same. It is in that context that we can understand the types of threat we are likely to face in defence in the world in the future. There is an ongoing debate in the UK on what form future warfare will take and how it will impact on the strategic defence and security review. For example, insurgencies are not a new phenomenon, despite what
we sometimes read in our media; they have been fought in some form or another for hundreds of years. Our history books are littered with one insurgency or another-sometimes in the same place. The counter-insurgency operations being conducted in Afghanistan are not a guarantee of what warfare will look like in the future, but are in many senses a continuation of past trends.
As we scan the horizon now, there seems little prospect of the UK being involved in a direct state-on-state conflict, but there is always the possibility of the UK being dragged against our will into state-on-state warfare between other nations. Even state-on-state warfare would not necessarily take the same linear, symmetrical and conventional form it did in the 20th century. The current superiority of western conventional military might, coupled with the advantages offered by globalisation, has led our adversaries, not least in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the region, to look beyond the approach of choosing between conventional and asymmetric types of warfare, and to adopt a hybrid warfare approach instead.
The current direction of development in Chinese military thinking seems not to be to attempt to match America's conventional capability but to develop the technology that will deny America access to its own capability. That represents a major change in how we will have to think. With hybrid warfare we should assume that our adversaries will simultaneously employ a mix of conventional weapons and irregular tactics that may include organised crime and acts of terrorism, both of which we have seen related to threats to the UK in the recent past. We must understand that the conflicts of the future will go beyond the conventional arena and threaten our social well-being, domestic infrastructure and economic capabilities. The taste of what we got on 9/11 was only the beginning of what we might taste in the future, and it is a very unpleasant menu.
Dr. Fox: It is clear that the commitments that we have already entered into with Taiwan should be honoured. We should regard the jury as being out on the military development in China. I hope that China will become an increasingly liberalised member of the international community, that we see democratic reform and further liberal market reform, and that China develops a defensive posture. On the other hand, it is impossible to rule out the fact that China might develop none of those, maintain its position as an autocratic state and try to develop offensive capabilities. We might find that China is a great opportunity; we might find that it is a tremendous threat. We would be wise to exercise caution until we are clear about exactly which direction China is taking, but we would also be sensible to extend a hand to China that says, "If you become part of the international community and play a constructive role, that will be welcomed by the west."
When we consider the types of threat and of operation that may be mounted, it is instructive to look at what happened with Russia's invasion of Georgia. It involved heavy armour, air strikes and ground troops, which is all very conventional, but it was augmented-in fact, preceded-by a surgical cyberattack on the Georgian
Government and a sophisticated information operations campaign aimed at the Georgian people and the international community. Therefore, perhaps the biggest change that we need to make as we go into the years ahead, following whatever defence and security review we have, is an intellectual adjustment to the nature of both the threats facing us and our responses to them.
In the future, our investment-it might be difficult for politicians to sell this-may well be in defence technologies that we cannot see in the way that we were able to see naval fleets, armoured divisions or fighter squadrons. It will be a challenge to explain to the public why we have to apply such change in the light of the technological advances being made by those who threaten us. Therefore, saying that we can focus only on "the war" at the expense of "a war" is simply not good enough for the defence of the British people, but it would be an easy way out for any Government whose first and foremost responsibility ought to be the defence of the realm.
Andrew Mackinlay: Will the hon. Gentleman and others reflect on the fact that while we can measure our nuclear strength, and even our conventional capacity, against potential adversaries, there is no mechanism for Parliament to understand whether we are ahead of the game in cyber warfare or lagging substantially behind, and what our investment is in research and development in that area? Parliament has not been told about that and we need to know.
Dr. Fox: We are here today to ask questions of the Government. These are the debates that the country needs to have. We need to focus a great deal more on the types of threat to us that will emerge in the future. I wonder whether the British public are aware of the extent of the cyber threats being faced by industry and our national institutions. I wonder whether they know that there was a dirty bomb in Moscow and whether they are aware of the organised crime that underpins the transnational terrorism that we face. There are many things that we need to face up to.
I remember writing a pamphlet on nuclear terrorism and offering it to one of the editors of our national newspapers as an exclusive. The reply was, "I could not possibly print that. Our readers would be terrified if they saw it." That is exactly the point: we have to start to tell the public what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Many right hon. and hon. Members have had the privilege of being briefed on the threat posed by an electromagnetic pulse. If this country has the good fortune to have its defences run by my hon. Friend, will he undertake to receive representations during the strategic defence review on the threats posed by an electromagnetic pulse and on the potential answers, which are not that expensive?
As my right hon. Friend knows, other countries, notably the United States, have spent a lot of money protecting their critical national infrastructure from an EMP threat. That goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and to the fact that I am not sure how widely appreciated
that threat is. The Government did not state this, but I am sure that when they, under Tony Blair, brought to the House of Commons plans for the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent, that threat was in their mind. If there is the threat of an EMP weapon that can take out critical infrastructure, the only way to maintain nuclear deterrence is to have a continuous at-sea deterrent somewhere very far away from our own shores, where we can maintain that posture. We need to get that across to the public so that they understand the need to maintain our nuclear deterrent, and a submarine-based deterrent at that.
Mr. Ellwood: On the important subject of cyber security, does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps we can learn lessons from the Americans, who have just appointed a four-star combatant commander to sit alongside commanders from the United States Central Command, Joint Forces Command and Southern Command, and others who advise the Defence Secretary and the President on cyber warfare? So serious is the issue that they now have a four-star general looking at that issue alone.
Dr. Fox: I detect in the House an appetite for further debate on the subject, and no doubt those hon. Members waiting to speak would thank me for not taking the debate further and instead leaving them to do so themselves. My hon. Friend is right: the issue will become bigger; it is live.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State acknowledges the size of the threat that we face, and of the frequency and the danger of the attacks that we are under. We as a country cannot avoid investing in the technologies that we require. As I said, we are talking about things that we cannot see, and it may not necessarily be easy to sell them to a sceptical electorate, but that is none the less what any Government who take our national security seriously will have to do.
As we face very wide ranges of challenges in global security, we will need to take a new political approach. The past 13 years have shown us that Labour has not only let down our armed forces, but failed to drive the radical change that is required inside the Ministry of Defence. The equipment programme has been grossly mismanaged and is underfunded by some £35 billion. We have had four Defence Secretaries in four years, one of whom was part time, even though we were heavily engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. No Secretary of State, however committed, can be on top of the complexity of the issues that we face when constantly being moved around by the Prime Minister as just another piece on the political chessboard.
The liability for that position lies with Tony Blair and the current Prime Minister for failing to give serial Secretaries of State the time or backing that they needed, politically or financially. We now know that the 1998 strategic defence review was never fully funded, and that troops were sent to Iraq without all the equipment that they required. As the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) said during the Chilcot inquiry, within the MOD
"there was quite a strong feeling"
"was not fully funded".
Sir Kevin Tebbit said that, as permanent secretary, he had to operate under a permanent crisis budget. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Walker, said that the SDR was underfunded by almost £1 billion, and we all know that the helicopter budget was cut by £1.4 billion in 2004.
Only last week, the Prime Minister, who had been described as dissembling and disingenuous by former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce and Lord Guthrie, told the House, and members of the armed forces and their families on the British Forces Broadcasting Service, that the defence budget is rising every year in real terms. Yet we now know that there has been a real-terms cut to the defence budget on four occasions since 1997-in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2007. The defence budget also fell below 1997 levels, again in real terms, on four occasions: '98, '99, 2000 and 2002. Our armed forces cannot afford, literally or figuratively, another five years of Labour.
The truth is that the Government are all over the place on defence. Next year, the interest on the debts that they have run up for this country will be one and a half times the defence budget. It took us 2006 years to run up the first £450 billion of debt in this country; it took them four years to run up the second £450 billion. That is what the country will have to live with. That is what our defences will have to operate within-the toxic economic legacy of Labour. The changes that our country faces are great; we need a new, Conservative Government.